I set aside fear and my self-esteem roared.
It started with my boyfriend taking me for a ride on his bike weeks before.
When I asked how the motorcycle worked, he implied that it was "too dangerous for a woman."
I don't like when people tell me I can't do something, so his comment only intrigued me more.
Days after that incident, as I wrote a list of things I had to do — things like take clothes to the dry cleaners, buy Advil, get new eyeglasses ... I suddenly wrote "Harley." (I actually saved that note; it's currently taped to my bathroom mirror as a reminder to be daring, to go for my dreams, to never let anyone tell me "no.")
Of course, dreams rarely go from initial shiny idea straight to easy, "happily ever after" ending.
As such, one day I found myself standing next to my new bike ... which was lying on the ground on the side of a traffic-packed Greenwich, CT road with a line of irritated drivers gawking at me, eager to get by.
Fear is what toppled me over. Scared to give my bike too much gas (called 'throttling down'), worried that I'd veer into oncoming traffic, I let fear overtake me and, as it did, over me and my 540-pound motorcycle went.
A man got out of his car and asked if I needed help picking up the bike. I did, so I was grateful. But I was also embarrassed. I mean, a woman on a bike falling —"It figures."
The pressure of so many people watching made me panic worse than if I'd been stranded in an obscure location with no one to notice my fall.
When I was very new at riding my motorcycle, I kept falling during the turns or feeling like I was going to stall.
To cut the turn, you have to really be sure of doing it. Too little throttle and you stall. Too much throttle throws you wide, which (depending on which way you turn) can land you on the side of the road or directly into oncoming traffic. Either way, its dangerous and learning to ride a motorcycle is complex — starting the bike, stopping it, turning from a stop, turning in motion, leaning, counter-steering, shifting.
Even parking is a challenge.
When the bike drops, you have to turn your back to this monstrous ride, bend your knees and put your buttocks against the edge of the seat, and then grip the front handlebar. Then, with some hope, you'll find a good place to grip the bike near the rear tire. Then you lean your bodyweight into the bike, walk slowly backward, lifting it using your legs, then get it upright and make sure you don't drop it to the other side.
I saw all those cars lined up and I started to freak out. I didn't want them all to witness my attempt at picking up the bike. I knew the tactic, but hadn't yet used it. Some people beeped their horns. The nice man yelled at the drivers in my defense.
We got the bike up, but I couldn't get it started because the engine had flooded. So now I was stuck in the intersection feeling helpless. I thanked the man, encouraged him to leave, and left to my own meager motorcycle savvy, walked the bike to the side of the road and sat still on it until I gathered myself together.
For a second, the thought ran through my head — I made a really dumb mistake buying this bike in the first place!
But then I thought about how nice this man was to stop and help me. And I felt a combination of deep embarrassment AND incredible gratitude and bravery.
I mean, in a way, a 49-year-old, 120-pound blond from the wealthy part of Connecticut has to be a little bit crazy to begin riding such a powerful machine, especially so late in life, especially alone.
But here's the thing — riding a motorcycle safely requires formal training on a range, passing a tricky aptitude test, a state license, and hours of practice.
It requires coordination, good judgment, and a special courage that many people, especially women, deny they possess.
I reminded myself that I'd found a class an hour and a half away and paid $300 for the weekend course and made friends. It poured rain both days on the range, but I was determined to pass the required aptitude test. I got hurt when the bike went out of control for a moment; I still have a scar on my shinbone.
I never told anyone in my pretty-people crowd that I was taking the course. I didn't want to hear their negativity until I had passed and mastered the bike.
I was the only woman in the class that day.
If you fall over, you have to just get back up, say, "I'm fine," and get back onto the obstacle course. Express no fear.
I didn't want to be the one who fulfills the stereotype of the dainty lady who claims, "Oh, I'm hurt." No way!
When the bike went a little out of control in class, when I hurt my shin, I pulled myself out of fear and finished my range exercise. Fear isn't an option on a powerful bike.
When you push outside your comfort zone, yes, you feel scared ... but that's part of the fun.
I like when people believe in me but I know that must begin with believing in myself.
After I passed the class and got my motorcycle endorsement in Connecticut, I trained on different mid-sized bikes. Within four weeks, I became enchanted with a blue, pre-owned Harley Davison Sportster 1200 Custom and asked my mentors and new friends, Ralphie and Dollie, to help me gain confidence riding it.
We took it onto the highway, new for me, and started and stopped over and over again, then made turns from a stop, and then made turns in motion.
They believed in me and that's exactly what I needed.
In order to gain real confidence, you need to gain speed on your bike.
In first and second gear, the bike is putting, wanting to go faster. But in third, fourth, and fifth gear, the bike just stays up naturally. Riding becomes intuitive and powerful. If you stay in first and second gear — these are the gears you learn in — you never fully realize what it's like to be in the groove. You feel less in control and remain apprehensive.
Higher gears are where the fun is, and much of the safety, too, even if there's a challenge at that speed. You just feel confident. That's when the real joy comes into it. That's when you feel the wind, the power, the freedom.
So, yes. I fell that day. It was embarrassing. I needed help getting back up.
But I did get back up. I did get back on my bike. And I did keep riding.
I'm thrilled to have found my Harley friends. I'm finding this community very grounding. Literally. We are connected by a desire to ride, to feel alive and exhilarated. We watch out for each other.
I think we can all relate to this fear of falling. The natural reaction when you fear falling is to slow down, look at the road below where you think you will land, and tense your muscles in expectation of a crash.
Instead, we need a healthy dose of self-belief.
As you go into a turn in life, look only far ahead. Ask yourself, Where must I end up? That should be your only focal point. Doing so let's you know you'll make that turn with ease and grace.
You ease up on the throttle, lean into the corner to create a tight turn, look ahead to where you want to go, glide through it (avoid the brake!), and come out upright. Now throttle down to gain speed.
And keep moving. Don't look back — look only where you want to go, which is forward, onward, riding to a new destination.
It's the law of attraction in overdrive. Fear must be replaced with self-belief — belief in my future dreams, in the success of my clients, that I'll find love again with someone who believes in me, and that I'll keep living my life with passion.
Live this life courageously and fully. That's what the bike is teaching me, so I'll keep riding.